The Smallest Streams Can Hold Big Surprises

The Smallest Streams Can Hold Big Surprises: Removing the Shorey’s Brook Dam

Located on the town line between Eliot, and South Berwick, Maine, Shorey’s Brook is only about 4 miles long. As early as the 1630’s it has been dammed a few hundred feet upland from where it empties at the confluence of the Cocheco and Salmon Falls rivers (where they become the Piscataqua River). After the failing dam was removed in December of 2011, the brook has begun returning to a natural state and revealing just how important small streams connected to the estuary can be. Dams interupt the natural flow of water, sediment, and nutrients, negatively impacting habitat along tributary streams like Shorey’s Brook. The most obvious impact is the physical barrier of the dam itself. Migratory fish like herring, shad, and smelt were blocked from swimming upstream to spawn. Tidal exchange was halted at the base of the dam, which greatly reduced the amount of unique habitat where salty and fresh water meet.

Shorey Brook

A restored Shorey’s Brook. The bracket on the left spans about 13 ft., from the bank of the brook to the top of what used to be the dam.

Those who worked to get the dam removed were encouraged by an almost immediate response from plants and animals. Prior to its removal the dam created a long pond that backed up under Route 101. The pond – which was steadily filling with leaves, plants and fine, heavy silt – is now a lush meadow full of birds, small mammals, and countless grass species. The biggest response came from fish. When spring arrived, rainbow smelt and their eggs were found in the restored brook upstream from the dam site, and hundreds of baby and adult American eels were found all the way up to Route 101. Most astonishing of all, American brook lamprey – a state listed endangered species – were found in tiny Shorey’s Brook.

The Great Works Regional Land Trust (which owns the land containing the dam site) and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve lead this effort and partnered with a long list of regional organizations and agencies that helped fund the project and collaborated toward its success: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community Restoration ProgramGreat Bay Trout Unlimited, The Coastal Conservation Association of NH, Conservation Law Foundation, PREP, Maine Dept. of Transportation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With so many streams like Shorey’s Brook flowing throughout the Piscataqua region, imagine the natural and cultural history waiting to be rediscovered!  Restoring and protecting the health of the Piscataqua region will happen in increments.  Sometimes they may first appear to be insignificant, but each stream, woodland, meadow, or wetland is part of the whole ecosystem that sustains insects, plants, animals and people!

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.